City Stories

Chicago List: Outdoors

As the new job and move started to come together earlier this year, I shared with anyone who’d ask that I was most excited to be moving to Chicago just as Summer would arrive. “There’s nothing – nothing! – like Summer in Chicago!” I’d tell anyone who’d listen.

And I meant it. Maybe it’s the brutal winters Chicagoans survive every year; maybe it’s the mix of waterfront and city streets and green space; maybe it’s the childhood memories of bike rides and Italian ice and evening swims. Add them all up and – once the rain clears – there’s plenty to keep busy with outside!

Millennium Park – Chicago’s newest, and quickly becoming its highest-profile, green space was carved out of a corner of Grant Park. Meant to celebrate, you know…The Millennium…it didn’t quite make it, opening in 2004. Worth the wait, the space features a massive concert pavilion, an art-instillation fountain, manicured walking paths, a restaurant and of course, The Bean. A friend and I have plans to see Idina Menzel at the Pavilion when she comes to town (it’s kind of our thing), but the park is worth an afternoon exploring on its own.

The 606 / Bloomingdale Trail – One of my favorite finds in New York was The High Line, a gorgeously developed urban park built over abandoned rail lines and feeding into some of the coolest neighborhoods in the city. Chicago’s version – which I can’t figure out if it should be called The 606 or Bloomingdale Trail – feeds into its own hip areas of town, looping together a few different ground-level parks through one of those elevated rail lines Chicago public transit is known for. 

Garfield Park Conservatory – This horticulture hub on the west side of the city has been around for over a century, and is apparently one of the largest conservatories in the country. The building itself is impressive, not to mention the hundreds of species thriving within it. I can’t keep a plant alive to save my own life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the work and care of someplace like the Conservatory. It’s on the same train line as my office, just a few stops west, and it’s open late on Wednesdays. Sounds like a lovely way to spend a Summer evening.

Day at the Beach  – I made it to Coney Island just once while I was out east (which was maybe enough, to be honest), and was so consumed by things to do and see in the city that I never made it out to The Hamptons or other places beach-y. Chicago’s lakefront isn’t exactly a caribbean getaway, but it’s a perfectly lovely way to spend a summer’s day in the Midwest. Lincoln Park’s North Avenue Beach is built with these kinds of days in mind – snacks, shopping, activities and plenty of sand to enjoy.

Osaka Garden – Like so many of Chicago’s best sites, this garden, tucked away on an island in Jackson Park, is a throwback to the years of the World’s Columbian Exhibition and the incredible feats of city development borne out of that era. The Chicago Tribune offers an insider’s guide to finding the spot in the middle of a much larger park on the city’s south side – zooming out on the map, you can see the broad green space that expands out from Jackson Park to Midway Plaisance and connecting to Washington Park. Picnic, anyone?